Three members of the Cambridge MBA class of 2013 – Tessema Tesfachew, Andreas Kitzing and Alexander Harutyunyan – recently attended the Web Summit in Dublin, as nominees within their top 100 Future Global Leaders scheme.
The Web Summit brings together the world’s most inspiring entrepreneurs, investors and influencers for a curated three-day idea-exchange programme. Speakers this year included Werner Vogels, CTO, Amazon US; Padmasree Warrior, Chief Technology & Strategy, Cisco India; Peter Thiel, Founders Fund; and musician and co-founder of Elevation Partners, Bono.
Cambridge MBA alumni Tesfachew and Harutyunyan are co-founders of Assembly, a geolocation-driven professional networking smartphone app, while classmate Kitzing is founder of Sponsoo, an online market place for sport sponsorship that connects athletes, sports teams and clubs with sponsors.
At the Web Summit, they split their time between attending sessions and engaging with leading stakeholders from the venture capital world (VCs). They kept notes on their experience, and here are some of their thoughts:
Day 0 | Monday 3 November
Even before the Web Summit officially opened, we met loads of other Future Global Leader Scholars from all over the world, and found that most of them had already founded at least one company each – some of them multiple companies! This was Dublin, after all, so we had our mandatory pub crawl that evening, followed by dinner at the Guinness brewery where we heard a panel talk which included Drew Houston (founder of DropBox) and Justin Kan (co-founder of Justin.tv).
Just after the first chats to other scholars, I realised what a wonderful opportunity this would be to create new connections and, possibly, friendships. All the scholars I talked to were bright and had good insights about the startups; particularly I got some good feedback about Assembly.
Day 1 | Tuesday 4 November
I started the first day with a workshop class on marketing for start-ups. This presentation provided really valuable insights into culture and brand, and how important these are to the success of a company, even in its early stages. The session highlighted the importance of culture from the beginning, and underlined that it simply isn’t possible to “copy” culture – as each organisation needs a culture built from scratch and unique to that company. The next session I attended looked at 19 techniques for growth, and concluded that it’s best to focus on the most appropriate for your company – but don’t try to apply all of them!
I arrived at the Web Summit at noon, and my first impression was: “Wow, this is huge!” There were six halls with stands, workshops and stages, and so many people running around. I spent most of the day walking around the venue and connecting with other MBA Scholars. My best new contacts were two German VCs I randomly bumped into at one of the stands; I briefly pitched my idea for Sponsoo, and we agreed to have a follow-up in Germany in a couple of months.
Day 2 | Wednesday 5 November
I spent the first part of the day at the main stage, listening to talks ranging from artificial intelligence to the Internet of things. The rest of the day, I rethought some features of Assembly and tested ideas with my new friends or just attendees who were interested in business networking apps. It was extremely useful and we got a bunch of new ideas, which prompted us to revise some features and, even, execution strategy.
Today I attended many talks at the “Sport Summit,” a sub-conference on technology and sports – and schmoozed with the likes of Mike Farnan, ex-Managing Director of Manchester United International (where he promoted the brand globally), pro surfer Anastasia Ashley and skateboarding legend Tony Hawk. All three of them said that Sponsoo is a fantastic idea with great potential to help young athletes and sports teams, and that they would take a look at it and potentially help us. Wow!
Day 3 | Thursday 6 November
On the last day, Alexander and I spent most of the time in workshops as these were where we were able to get the most tangible advice and valuable insights. The day of workshops included: using your network to grow your business; growth hacking; programming for non-programmers; driving user acquisition for mobile apps, and understanding funnels and analytics. For an app company like Assembly, some of the insights and lessons that we learned were invaluable, and encouraged me to work in the hotel lobby until 14:00 incorporating some of those new ideas.
The day’s highlight for me was an afternoon talk by Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and managing partner of venture capital firm Founders Fund. In order to get a chance to talk to him after his talk, I waited at the entrance of the stage. Even though I ultimately didn’t talk to him, I noticed that a lot of his colleagues were also waiting at the stage entrance in order to hear his talk. So I just started chatting to them, and eventually got the email address of another Founder’s Fund manager!